Dasun Shanaka
Sri Lanka captain Dasun Shanaka holds up the trophy after winning the DP World Asia Cup, beating Pakistan in the final at the Dubai International Stadium on September 11, 2022. Image Credit: AFP

Dasun Shanaka is absolutely certain that the Asia Cup win in Dubai will spur Sri Lanka to loftier heights. The skipper’s belief is born out of the splendid performances in the UAE, where they won five games in a row after losing the first badly.

Not many gave Sri Lanka a chance. More so after the loss to Afghanistan. Even the loss wasn’t surprising since Sri Lanka has been undergoing an extended rebuilding phase. The retirements of giants like Muttiah Muralitharan, Mahela Jayawardene, Kumar Sangakkara, Chaminda Vaas and Lasith Malinga had left gaping holes in the team.

What the win means for Sri Lanka

In the absence of ready replacements, Sri Lankan cricket suffered, and a string of indifferent results followed. They dropped out of the world rankings and had to play the qualifiers for the T20 World Cup in the UAE last year. They will have to repeat it in Australia next month.

That makes the Asia Cup win a critical moment for Sri Lanka. Shanaka is confident that Sri Lanka has turned a corner with this win. “Even two to three years back, the team used to play good cricket, but the winning factor wasn’t there. This could be the turnaround in our cricket; this lot can continue to play for five to six years, which is a very good sign as well,” the captain said at the post-match press conference.

Sri Lankans celebrate
Sri Lankans celebrate after winning the DP World Asia Cup 2022 at the Dubai International Stadium on September 11, 2022. They defeated Pakistan in the final. Image Credit: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News

Sri Lanka came into the tournament without one of the star pacers, Dushmantha Chameera, but young Dilshan Madhushanka stepped up to the plate. The left-arm fast bowler, with only six T20 Internationals behind him, grabbed crucial wickets with his pace and swing. Much like Vaas, the 21-year-old has the ability to bend the ball back into right-handers: one of those deliveries cleaned up Virat Kohli of India.

Madushanka had a dreadful start in the final, but Pramod Madushan’s brilliance overshadowed that. At 28, the final was only his second T20I, but Madushan helped Sri Lanka seize the advantage with a double strike that sent back Pakistan skipper Babar Azam and Fakhar Zaman.

“We knew him [Madushan] from the start of his domestic career, but we had to take a risk to get the rewards. Madushan’s skills are there and he’s got a good career ahead. Glad he delivered in just his second game; he rewarded us for the risk we have taken [in selecting him],” Shanaka said.

Message to Sri Lankans

The Sri Lankan captain also had a message for his compatriots and passionate supporters. “Believe in our cricketers. A lot of bad things are going around. As cricketers, they should enjoy their lives as well, not spreading bad things. They have private lives too. Keep believing; that is the key. As a captain, I give confidence to the players, [whenever] I can,” he said.

“We always wanted to show the world that we had aggression in our side, and we wanted to create those moments as a unit. We want to keep up this momentum ahead of the World Cup,” said Bhanuka Rajapaksa, one of the architects of the win against Pakistan in the final.

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“With the [political] crisis happening back home, this is a tough time for all the Sri Lankans, but I hope we brought some smiles on the faces of our people. This is to the whole nation; they were waiting for this for so long,” Rajapaksa added.

Although Sri Lanka are Asia Cup champions, they will have to play the T20 World Cup qualifiers in Australia. The win has provided proof of their ability and consistency to be serious challengers in the tournament.

The rebuilding phase is officially over. Write off Sri Lanka at your peril.